Our Favorite Books of 2018

OPL staff look back on their favorite books of 2018.

I asked my colleagues to share their some of their favorite books from the last twelve months and here they are! We'd love to hear from you too--please share your favorite books of 2018 in the comments.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
It involves a young person who wants to be an internet sensation by filming herself (to put up on YouTube) hanging out with a robot sculpture in New York City. What ensues is a social commentary on fame and responsibility woven in a story that has twists and turns.              
Recommended for: Teens, Adults            
Recommended by: Erica Ann, Librarian I               

Always Another Country: A Memoir of Exile and Home by Sisonke Msimang
Sisonke Msimang grew up in many countries. Her father was in exile from South Africa, as a member of Nelson Mandela’s ANC party. Her mother, from Swaziland, made homes for the family in Zambia, Kenya, and Canada before returning to South Africa. Sisonke and her sisters then attended colleges in the United States, lived and worked in other countries, and were outsiders in South Africa as an intermittent home base. Msimang recounts close family relationships, friendships and betrayals, episodes of prejudice as an immigrant, and awareness of her own privilege in comparison to South Africans who had not gone into exile. Her writing is inviting and relatable, and gently lifts up multiple perspectives in interpersonal conflicts.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Lisa Hubbell, Librarian I, TPT, Brookfield and Rockridge

America is not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
Hero flees the Philippines to join her uncle and his family in Milpitas, helping with her seven-year-old cousin while seeking her own fulfilling personal life. Hero’s story unfolds to reveal her past as a doctor and revolutionary in the Philippines and the torture she experienced as a consequence of her political actions. Meanwhile in Milpitas she slowly warms up to a new community, rages at loud smoky garage parties, and falls for her friend Rosalyn. This book is packed with so much! It overflows with emotion and tenderness and humor, a sexy queer love story, a juicy look into a Bay Area community, a chilling history of violence and colonial oppression, questions of identity and the meaning of home.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

The Annotated Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, annotated by Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson and Anthony Dean Rizzuto               
The editor/annotators of this noir classic by the great master of California detective fiction set out to make annotation an new genre of literary activity. They have succeeded beyond all expectations. Besides being an unforgettable novel, the annotations provide essential details about the history of popular culture on this coast.          
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

The Black and the Blue by Matthew Horace
It is a rare event when a "man in blue" is willing to address the reality of the police violence against African Americans in this country. Matthew Horace has the courage to do just that in this powerful and revealing study of the bias that undermines justice and public safety in this country.       
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
In Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi combines beautifully reimagined elements of high fantasy quest novels with complex, timely issues of oppression, identity, allegiance, justice, and change. The first book in a planned trilogy, Adeyemi's debut is a compelling read in its own right likely to leave readers eager for the next volume in the series.               
Recommended for: Teens, Adults            
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary-Part-Time Library Assistant, floating

The Cursed Ground by T. R. Simon
The second book in Simon's Zora and Me series, The Cursed Ground far exceeds its predecessor and can be read as a stand-alone novel. The friendship among young Carrie, Teddy, and Zora (Neale Hurston of later literary renown) is at the heart of this book. Set in Eatonville, Florida, the first all-black incorporated township in the U.S., The Cursed Ground weaves the past with the novel's present (which is the reader's past) in powerful, thought-provoking, complex, and timely ways.             
Recommended for: Children, Teens, Adults, Families
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary-Part-Time Library Assistant, floating

A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano
Anna Meriano's A Dash of Trouble is told from the perspective of Leonora Logroño, precocious daughter and loyal friend. Trying to make a case for being allowed to help out in the family bakery at a younger age than her sisters were, she's surprised to learn she is the most recent in a long line of brujas (witches of Mexican ancestry), and that's just the beginning of her adventures. A Dash of Trouble is the first book in a series, and middle grade readers are likely to look forward to further installments.
Recommended for: Children      
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary-Part-Time Library Assistant, floating

Educated by Tara Westover
Educated is an extreme truth-telling memoir about surviving a childhood dominated by a charismatic, mentally ill, self-styled Mormon "prophet" who took his family off grid and controlled every aspect of his family members' lives. That included a mistrust of schools and medical care.  Not only does Tara survive, but she realizes that an education (as well as this memoir)  is her ticket out of an untenable situation. You will not be able to put this story down, while marveling at her ability to gather witnesses for what really happened (rather than relying on her memory alone). She manages to present the fullest portrait she could of all the characters in her story. It is chilling and inspiring at the same time.         
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Emily Odza, Librarian, Eastmont and other locations

Eternal Life by Dara Horn
"Immortality!" is often on what-would-you-wish-for-if-you-could-have-anything lists, but the wish is rarely accompanied by a thorough consideration of what immortality would actually entail. In Eternal Life, Dara Horn considers exactly that with humor, poignancy, and narrative grace.          
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary-Part-Time Library Assistant, floating

Experts are Puzzled by Laura Riding
This republication of a collection written while the author, an American, was based in London and first published there in 1930 shows one of the most strident and fascinating innovators of the first half of the 20th century at the height of her talents. The brief but varied prose pieces each present a challenge to mainstream perceptions of contemporary society and to the denigration of academic snobbery. One thing is certain about this artifact of early modernism:  it shows just how far ahead of her time Laura (Riding) Jackson was a writer.
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
This is a well-written and super-important book for these times.  It deals with the transition period from the Obama to the Trump presidency.  Government agencies were prepared, on the day after the Trump inauguration, to brief all new agency heads on the background information and responsibilities of the agencies they would lead.  No one came to the briefings that day; when someone did come, they were unprepared or unwilling to absorb this information and were more interested in politicizing what should be nonpartisan work.  Lewis details the work of government agencies, such as Energy, Commerce and others, and, in the same way that he analyzed baseball in Moneyball and finance in The Big Short, makes it fascinating.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Helen Anderson, Librarian, On call

Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Mia Tang and her immigrant parents live in the inexpensive Calivista Motel (not far from Disneyland) where they work as managers and surreptitiously let ten-year-old Mia manage the front desk and tend to guests. She also helps them occasionally hide down-on-their-luck immigrants and she quietly, subtly pushes back against the hotel-owner Mr. Yao's assumption that her family's immigrant status will force them to accept terms of employment that are exploitative and unfair. I liked that Mia was kind-hearted, open-minded, courageous, determined, and willing to both work hard and ask for help - as well as offer help. I think the wish-fulfillment surprise ending will feel satisfying to the most likely readers - kids ages 8 to 12.
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Erica Siskind, Children's Librarian, Rockridge

Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart
A dog’s love for his boy transcends time and space when the dog dies in an accident and his spirit has only a brief amount of time to return to the living, to make sure his boy is safe, and to say goodbye.  The boy Aiden and his dog Brodie share a special bond and their story offers a unique look at losing someone you love, not knowing where they have gone, and figuring out how to say goodbye.  The story becomes a fast-paced adventure as Brodie travels with a wise cat and a friendly dog, getting into scrapes as they help each other on the journey. Funny and poignant, with unforgettable characters, this story is especially valuable for those who have lost a loved one.  Ages 10 - 14.
Recommended for: Children, Teens        
Recommended by: Mardi, Children's Librarian, Montclair and Brookfield Branches

The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, The MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities by Wayne Kramer
It's time to kick out the jams! The Hard Stuff is one of the most moving and inspirational Rock 'n' Roll autobiographies I've ever read. Wayne Kramer is a guitarist and founding member of the revolutionary proto-punk band, The MC5. Formed in the fiery furnace of late 1960s Detroit, the MC5 became allied with the Black Panther party and advocated for racial and economic justice through their incendiary live shows and political activities. Kramer and the MC5 only made 3 albums before drugs and other crimes put him behind bars, where he was set on the path that was to change his life, but not before a knock-down drag-out fight with alcoholism and drug addiction. The Hard Stuff is a brutally honest and entertainingly written book that will have you cranking up your hi-fi and marveling at humanity's capacity for redemption.
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Stephen Bartenhagen, Librarian I, Main Library - Adult Reference

Hits and Misses: Stories by Simon Rich
More great humor from Simon Rich including a story about Paul Revere's famous midnight ride from the Horse's perspective. Also you will learn about the Foosball Championship of the Entire Universe played in a basement in Boca Rotan Florida. Enjoy the recounting of the failed career of England's last Court Jester.      
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Paul Schiesser, Senior Librarian/Branch Manager, Rockridge

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender
Kheryn Callender's Hurricane Child is told from the perspective of Caroline Murphy, the titular hurricane child. Having been born during a hurricane, Caroline understands herself to have been marked unlucky from birth. Struggling with a hostile school environment and an absent mother as she approaches adolescence, twelve-year-old Caroline is certainly feeling unlucky. She meets the new girl at school, Kalinda, and her first close friendship as well as her first crush soon follow. Callender's debut middle grade novel grapples deftly with the difficulties and promise of beginning to understand oneself, of building friendships, of navigating parent-child relationships, and of being twelve.         
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary-Part-Time Library Assistant, floating

If wants to be the same as is by David Bromige 
The long-awaited "essential poems" of one of the bravest, most talented and most influential Anglo-Canadian-California poets of the post-World War II period, is essential reading for any student or fan of contemporary poetry in the English language. Bromige's work embraces the diverse influences of his long, slow movement westward, from the blitzed London of World War II where he was born, to Saskatchewan & Vancouver in Canada, to Berkeley during the heyday of the San Francisco Renaissance and finally to Sonoma County, California. His poetry has informed an entire generation of younger poets who he taught as the first professor of poetry at Sonoma State University. The book is a testament to the man's brilliance and serves as a scintillating artifact as one of the great poets of the second half of the 20th century.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim      
Crystal Hana Kim's novel, "If You Leave Me" resonated Korean culture to me in a truthful, graceful way.  I appreciate well-written stories that are written by authors that reflect the ethnic background of the characters in the story, (authentic voice of the minority experience) is essential to me. Simply researching history about a culture doesn't make a writer an expert on the topic, but this seems to be the widely accepted practice of some publishers. I see it as a form of cultural appropriation.  Without authenticity or deep understanding, stereotypes and misinformation is the end result. I think we need more diverse books written by marginalized writers.
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Judy Kim, Library Assistant, Main

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
I'll be Gone in the Dark is a masterpiece in true crime writing. McNamara's obsession with the man she dubbed the Golden State Killer led her on a journey of investigative discovery and she has gifted her audience with a book that brings us along with her.  For lovers of In Cold Blood or The Devil in the White City, this is a must-read.
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Sharon McKellar, Supervising Librarian for Teen Services        

Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont by Saul Austerlitz
Previous authors (and film-makers) have told the dark tale of one of the largest crowds ever assembled on the West Coast to see and hear the Rolling Stones headlining a bill featuring the leading hippy-era California rockers. Unlike his predecessors tackling this subject, Saul Austerlitz homes in on the casualty, Meredith Hunter, Jr., the gun-toting 18-year-old African American from Berkeley who was brutally stabbed to death just feet from the stage, a young man who in other works on the subject represents a mere footnote. Hunter's story, as Austerlitz tells it, testifies to the racial divide that characterizes the social fabric of the Bay Area, then and now.   
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch Library

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
There's a poster that went somewhat viral several years ago called "Murakami BINGO." It's a large BINGO card with each square depicting tropes and themes that come up often in Murakami's novels. There are squares for "faceless villian," "jazz records," and "precocious teenager" among others. As I started his latest novel, it felt as if Murakami was writing with this poster in mind, checking off squares as he went along. If you know Murakami's work, this novel will feel familiar for this reason and others. There is also a freshness to it. Murakami practices a special kind of magical-realism that draws you in and has you believing the unbelievable to be true.
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Brian Guenther, Senior Librarian, 81st Avenue

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed
Great illustrations with a simple, endearing story made this a hit for me and my two young children!  Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Josh, Children's Librarian, MLK Jr.

A Massacre in Mexico: The True Story Behind the Missing 43 Students by Anabel Hernández, translated by John Washington
One of humanity's most fearless champions of human rights and the struggle against corruption in Mexico, the courageous investigative reporter Anabel Hernández, has covered fearlessly one of that nation's most celebrated tragedies: the disappearance in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico on Sept. 26, 2014 of 43 students of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College en route to demonstration in Mexico City. Her courage and grit makes her book on the tragedy one of journalism's most important documents, in this or any other century.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults            
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Mommy's Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
Mommy’s Khimar is an ode to the joy that all children find in dressing up in their parents' clothing. The digitally rendered illustrations are bold, eye-catching, and exude joy. The text includes short, lyrical sentences about a African American Muslim girl's imaginative adventures with her mother’s collection of multicolored mother’s scarves. Ultimately, Mommy’s Khimar celebrates the unbridled happiness of one Muslim child, her family, and members of her community. Recommended for all.          
Recommended for: Children, Families
Recommended by: Mahasin Abuwi Aleem, Children's Librarian, Children's Room - Main Library

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
A dreamy space odyssey about first love, friendships, rocketships, and adventure. If you like epic stories about queer girls and nonbinary characters with beautiful art and a sci-fi setting, check it out!               
Recommended for: Teens, Adults            
Recommended by: Naomi Permutt, Children's Librarian, Golden Gate

Period Power by Nadya Okamoto
I wish this book existed when I was a teenager. This book presents honest and unforgiving information about menstruation. This includes the history of menstruation products, how the period is/has been represented in the media, and how one should not be ashamed because you menstruate. There is also a personal narrative that weaves through the book by the author that makes you excited to have your period.       
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Erica Ann Watson, Librarian I

The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and his Spies are Undermining America and Dismantling the West by Malcolm Nance
One of the most honest and well-informed observers on the intelligence front tells it like it is about the corruption and authoritarian ideology that the Republican Party has come to foster. The author presents a factual and straightforward exposé of the role of the supporters and associates of Donald Trump in the foreign intrigues that are exploiting the ranks of the Republicans and its far-right fringes to promote the Russia's international oligarchy led by Putin.
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
The Poet X is a novel in verse told from the perspective of Xiomara Batista, daughter of Dominican immigrants making her way toward adulthood in Harlem. Some may be daunted and others welcomed by a novel made of poems. Either way, once this book is cracked, readers won't be able to help being drawn into Xiomara's story as she finds her feet and her voice through the power of language.   
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary-Part-Time Library Assistant, floating

Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences: The Official Autobiography by Richard Pryor            
Comedian and actor Richard Pryor was a genius whose work has left an indelible impact on popular culture and contemporary comedy. That his autobiography, first published in 1995 to great fanfare and controversy, had gone out of print was as tragic as the multiple sclerosis that led to his confinement to a motorized scooter later in life. Rare Bird Books in Los Angeles has rectified that tragedy, reissuing this "powerhouse of a memoir" (as described on the blurb on the back cover) with a cogent and essential essay by fellow comic Tig Notaro.      
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow
I couldn't put this book down. Rising Out of Hatred is a completely accessible and compelling look at the current rising tide of white nationalism in the United States and one young man's journey away from that movement. There are true and real heroes here and an important discussion on the best ways to confront and possibly change the hate we see in the world around us.     
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Elia Shelton, Librarian, Main Library

Singles and Smiles: How Artie Wilson Broke Baseball's Color Barrier by Gaylon H. White
The value of this book is the subject it so endearingly and comprehensively describes. From his youth growing up in Birmingham, Alabama and playing in the segregated amateur baseball leagues of the Depression-era south to his later years as a successful seller of Lincoln and Mercury automobiles on the lot of Gary-Worth dealership outside of Portland, Ore., Artie Wilson's humility and warmth never faltered. Although he accumulated only 22 at-bats in the Major Leagues before he was replaced on the roster of the New York Giants in 1951 by fellow Alabaman Willie Mays, arguably the greatest baseball player of all time, Wilson left an enduring mark on baseball on the West Coast. This new biography documents Wilson's great seasons as the first self-identified African-American player for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League (1949-1951) and the adulation he received here before ending his career in Seattle and Portland. The author has produced a legacy monograph to a great icon of East Bay sports.    
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

There There by Tommy Orange
Oakland is the setting for this unflinchingly brutal, compassionate, and sometimes humorous debut novel which takes a panoramic look at the lives of urban Native Americans. The stories of twelve individuals weave together with rage, pain and beauty as their paths converge at the Big Oakland Powwow. It’s not an easy read because it is so rife with anguish, both personal and historical, but it is absolutely gripping.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman
This is a story about the love between two brothers and the incredibly hard road one must travel to become an artist.  Meticulously researched and based upon the 658 letters Vincent wrote to Theo during his lifetime. The true story is well written and moves along quickly sweeping the reader into the nineteenth century world of Vincent and Theo in the Netherlands and France, as Vincent acquires his painting skills and his confidence as an artist.  We experience Vincent’s moods, descriptions of how he experimented with color and different painting styles, the tragedies of the Van Gogh family, and the steady influence and love from Theo as he sacrificed to pursue their shared goal for Vincent to develop into a famous painter. Winner of the 2018 Michael L. Printz Honor and the 2018 Young Adult Library Services Association Nonfiction Award.  For ages 12 and up.        
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Mardi, Children's Librarian, Montclair and Brookfield Branches

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
My pick for best book of 2018 is Esi Edugyan's Washington Black. But you don't have to take my word for it. This breathtaking historical novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and is on the New York Times's 10 Best Books list. George Washington Black, Wash for short, narrates his own story. Born into slavery on a sugar plantation on Barbados, Wash is plucked from the cane fields at the age of eleven to be a sort of waiter and assistant to his master's inventor brother, called Titch. Titch discovers Wash's talent for drawing and becomes a mentor to him. A tragic and violent event at the plantation forces Titch and Wash to flee in Titch's "Cloud-cutter." Wash's subsequent adventures, with and without Titch, take him to the Arctic, to Nova Scotia, to London, and to Morocco. Along the way, Wash becomes an accomplished marine biologist and illustrator. Besides the adventure and the science, Washington Black is also a novel about attachment, abandonment, and identity. A very satisfying read.           
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Kathleen, Senior Librarian, Main Library

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
A long-distance romance blooms when Alexa and Drew meet in a broken elevator at the Fairmont Hotel and share an instant attraction. Impulsively Drew asks Alexa to be his date for his ex’s wedding that weekend—and to pretend to be his girlfriend to save face at the event. A very fun and sexy multicultural romance from an Oakland author. A sequel, The Proposal, also came out this fall and a third is in the works.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal
Woman World just might be the funniest dystopian story ever told. One might even argue that it presents a utopia. Told as a series of short vignettes, we learn that men are gone from the Earth, but women's problems are far from over. The naked mayor of the community named "Beyonce's Thighs" (for the strength, empathy, and endurance they symbolize) keeps everything running smoothly amidst myriad crushes, jokes, and Paul Blart references. Real commentary about gender, sexuality, and feminism are not-so-subtly sprinkled throughout this hilarious and vibrant read.     
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Josephine Sayers, Library Assistant, Main

 

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